Let the machines do the work!

An innovative project in Benin to help rural citizens with laborious agricultural tasks was successfully implemented due to an effective way of selecting capable operators as well as the use of locally produced equipment. ”SETUP: Services Energétiques et Techniques à Usage Productif au Bénin” aimed to solve a practical problem. The processing of agricultural products has traditionally been performed with hard physical labor, mostly performed by women. One example is the task of molding corn for daily meals which requires much effort from women in rural areas of Benin. This project installed 26 multifunctional platforms. Each platform consists of a building with a large room where an engine powers agro-processing equipment, such as a corn mill and an oil press. Neighboring farmers can bring their produce, pay a fee for using the machines, and efficiently let the machine do the work previously performed with physical labor. To find the right people to operate the platforms, the project organized a grand competition in cooperation with the local municipalities in order to select the best associations and private entrepreneurs. In addition, much equipment was produced by local artisans. This has made it much easier for local technicians to handle repairs afterwards. Five years after the platforms were installed, most are still in use. The clever setup, with the availability of local technicians to handle repairs and qualified operators, has resulted in a sustainable project where operators have seen new opportunities and expanded their businesses, farmers have gained vital access to expensive machinery, and the burden of some physical labor has been lifted off the shoulders of rural women.